Sexual Assault

Characteristics of Sexual Assault

Most citizens know very little about sex offenders: where they live, how they are treated, if they can be treated, and who is victimized. As a result, the general public holds many misconceptions about sex offenders that contribute to fear and denial about crimes of sexual assault.  These fears and concerns may include:

I cannot tell who is and who is not a sex offender.

  • No one can really identify potential sex offenders.  To protect yourself from offenders, follow general safety guidelines, such as maintaining an awareness of your surroundings and trusting your instincts about people and situations.  To protect your children, maintain open lines of communication with them – child sexual abusers often choose children whom they perceive as emotionally needy or neglected by their parents.

I will begin to distrust all men.

  • Remember that while most sexual assault perpetrators are men, most men are not perpetrators.

How will I know if I can believe allegations about sexual assault?

  • The majority of victims tend to minimize sexual assault, or do not disclose the abuse out of self-blame, fear, or shame.  This is particularly true of child victims.  Research indicates that sexual assault is no more falsely reported than any other crime.  The best approach is to believe the victim, listen to her or his allegations, offer your support, and get help.

I will become violent if my child is a victim of sexual abuse.

  • The child victim has endured one of the most profound violations of her or his person.  It is difficult for them to cope with other people knowing about this abuse.  This difficulty can be exacerbated if the child observes a parent or caregiver becoming violent in response to his or her victimization.  In order to spare the victim further trauma you may have to seek counseling to help you in handling your own reactions to a child’s abuse.

My child will be permanently damaged if she/he is victimized.

  • A supportive and appropriate family response and professional intervention can help child victims and their families to heal.

Can I protect my child(ren) from sexual abuse?

  • You can minimize the risk to your child(ren) by listening to their questions and concerns, talking to them about sex and sexual abuse, and ensuring an open and communicative family lifestyle where your child(ren) know they can come to you if they have questions, fears and/or concerns.

I’m afraid my child could be a willing participant in sexual abuse.

  • Because of the age difference, children are unable to truly consent to sexual acts.   They are often made to feel like willing participants, which further contributes to their shame and guilt.

I will be so frightened that my child will become a victim that my own fears will hurt my child.

  • Over-protectiveness and excessive fear on the part of parents or guardians can make your child feel helpless.  Information reduces uncertainty, so become informed and then inform your child.

If my child is a victim I will never know it.

  • The reality is that your child may not tell you about being sexually victimized.  However, changes in behavior that concern you may be indicators of child sexual abuse and should be evaluated.

The court process will be worse for my child than the actual sexual abuse.

  • If a child feels empowered by the court process, the outcome can be positive.  Find out what kinds of victims rights protections are in place to ease the trauma of the court experience for your child or yourself.  Many communities have taken steps to make the process easier for child victims.  Seek the support of victim advocates in your community, who are there to help you and your child through the court process.

I do not know what exactly happens during child sexual abuse.

  • Child sexual abuse can take many forms, and most often does not include penetration.  It is important that if your child or another child tells you about an incident of sexual abuse, that you not pry for information.  Allow the child to disclose what they need to in their own way and in their own time.

How much should I blame my child for the sexual abuse?

  • Children are never to be blamed for being abused.

Will talking about sexual abuse with my child after it occurs make it worse?

  • Making your child talk when he or she is not ready can make it worse.   Encouraging your child to talk but not demanding or forcing information from her or him is helpful.

How do I approach my brother, sister, mother, father, in-laws, uncle, or husband if I suspect them of sexually abusing someone?

  • Your best approach is to contact the authorities (law enforcement or child protective services) and let them investigate, because your priority is to believe and protect your child.

How/who do I tell if I am sexually assaulted or my child is sexually abused?

  • If you have been assaulted, or you suspect child sexual abuse, report this to local law enforcement authorities immediately.  You might want to tell a trusted person who could support you through this process.   In addition, consider contacting the sexual assault crisis center in your area (these programs exist in most communities).  They provide confidential, 24 hour sources of support, information, referral and advocacy.

If I am sexually assaulted I don’t think I could ever recover.

  • Although the pain of sexual assault is profound, victims do heal and go on to live full, enriching lives. The healing process will be smoother if you seek assistance from someone, such as a therapist or a victim advocate, who has experience talking to sexual assault victims.  Tell someone you trust what has happened – don’t struggle with it alone.

I don’t know how to help a friend who has been sexually assaulted.

  • Listening to your friend without judging her/his choices is the best thing you can do.  Reinforce the message that your friend is not to blame for what happened.  Encourage them to seek help in recovering.  Be sensitive to new fears and behaviors associated with the assault (such as avoiding crowds or feeling unsafe in previously comfortable locations).  Most importantly, give your friend time to heal and let her/him know you’re there to listen whenever needed.

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